Coward Springs, South Australia
Things to do

Today becomes tomorrow's heritage
Map of Australia showing location of Coward Springs
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Many campers extend their stay to explore Coward Springs and places nearby at a relaxed pace.

Explore this oasis

  • A permanent wetland is an oasis for wildlife.
  • The many native trees and shrubs we've planted are attracting more bush birds (and butterflies).


  • Soak in the 'natural spa' on the edge of the wetland - 29 degrees centigrade and high in mineral salts, it is always refreshing; try it under the starry night sky or in the early morning in the rising steam.
  • Take time-out in the shelter of the campground trees.
Painting with pottery

Get a sense of history

  • Take a self-guided walk. Use the historical map provided to discover the details of Coward Springs from its beginnings as a railway settlement through to today.
  • Spend a few hours in the Engine Drivers Cabin, restored and open as a museum:
    • read the stories and memories of many people for a glimpse into the past
    • discover the significance of the area for local indigenous people
    • understand the European heritage of this region
    • see the photographic record of our heritage site restoration
    • find out about the wetland
    • view local artwork (for sale).

Get a sense of the outback

  • See intense daylight, subtle dawns and dusks, expansive star-filled nights and mirages that float on the horizon.
  • Feel the peace of hearing only the sounds of nature.
  • Experience the extremes of the arid zone - such as the warm days and cold nights of winter.
  • Discover the landscape - red gibber plains; blue-grey arid zone plants; the distant colourful mesas.

The wetland

Wetland at Coward Springs

Coward Springs has a permanent wetland, which is part of the region's cultural heritage.

In 1887 a bore was sunk here in preparation for the coming railway. By the 1920's millions of gallons of water flowed without control over the dry gibber plains. The salty water from the Great Artesian Basin had quickly corroded the bore head and the bore casing to create an evolving wetland. A large pool also formed where water bubbled from the corroded bore and this became a popular bathing place for locals, railway crew and travellers.

The bore was rehabilitated in 1993 by the Department of Mines and Energy. It was redrilled and relined and the flow rate controlled and reduced.

In 1996, 200 hectares - including about 70 hectares of wetland - was conserved under a Heritage Agreement with the South Australian Government.

The wetland continues to be a haven for wildlife - an oasis that provides water and food, shelter and breeding areas. So far 99 plant species, 126 bird species and numerous small native mammals, reptiles, aquatic and terrestrial invertebrates have been recorded here.


187 birds have been recorded for the Lake Eyre South region. Many of the species recorded at Coward Springs are historical records because the wetland is considerably smaller in size since the bore was rehabilitated. However the diversity of habitats - from the wetland rushes, reeds and mudflats to the adjacent shrubland and stony gibber flats - offer the opportunity to see a range of outback and wetland birds, including many that are nomadic or migratory.

Regular sightings of resident Spotless and Australian Spotted Crakes and Brolgas are made close to the camping area. There are seasonal sightings of Pied Honeyeaters and Rainbow Bee-eaters and we have noticed an increase in bush birds because of the trees we have planted. For example Chirruping Wedgebills appear to have become resident.

A current bird list is displayed at the campground and visitors are asked to record any new or unusual sightings.

The 'natural spa'

When the bore was rehabilitated Greg and a friend (thanks Fergie) built the 'natural spa' to imitate the old pool. The water now flows from the bore through the 'natural spa' and into the wetland. Visitors can still soak in the revitalising artesian water just as people bathed for decades in the old pool.

While you soak in the spa you can often hear water birds in the rushes right next to you, a favourite being the Clamourous Reed-warbler in Spring.

Railway Heritage

The 'Old Ghan' railway reached Coward Springs in 1888, Oodnadatta by 1891 and Alice Springs in 1929. The last Old Ghan train ran in 1980.

Coward Springs Siding was once the most western point on the line. At the turn of the century camel teams transported goods to pastoral stations to the west and to the goldfields at Tarcoola.

Coward Springs Railway Site was listed with the South Australian Heritage Register in 1998.

There were a number of buildings at Coward Springs during railway days but the only two remaining are the Station Masters House and the Engine Drivers Cabin. Close to ruins when we arrived in 1990, they are now both restored.

Restored heritage buildings

Restored Heritage Building

Both the Station Masters House and the Engine Drivers Cabin have been restored using traditional methods and to original plans. They are the only heritage buildings along the Oodnadatta Track to be restored. Several others have been stabilised in recent years including Margaret Siding (fettlers cottages) about 12km towards Marree and the buildings at Strangways Telegraph Station about 35 kilometres toward William Creek.

The Engine Drivers Cabin is open as a museum for campers and day visitors to browse displays and artwork. Plans and a photo album of the restoration process are on display as well as various displays and books that will give you a sense of place and time. (The museum is closed between late October and April.)

We have restored the Stationmasters House as our home from a building that in 1991 had no floorboards and only part of the roof.

Along the Oodnadatta Track

'Thanks for bringing alive a slice of the past.'